COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M University won’t create filters on Facebook that target animal rights activists under a lawsuit settlement that ends another court case surrounding the First Amendment in the age of social media.
Texas A&M, one of the nation’s largest public universities with more than 65,000 students, was sued in 2018 by People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals over claims the school used filters on Facebook to hide comments containing words such as “dog,” “abuse” and “testing.” For years, PETA has protested medical research on dogs at Texas A&M.
The school admitted no wrongdoing under the settlement that PETA announced Monday, but agreed to pay $75,000 in attorney’s fees and “not to exercise in viewpoint discrimination.” Texas A&M, however, still retains latitude to moderate Facebook comments for relevancy, meaning that PETA supporters could still find their posts removed if they’re deemed off topic.
“We believe that we have found a way to move forward to end this litigation that demonstrates our university’s strong commitment to the First Amendment. We hope this can be of use to other universities dealing with complexities of the social media landscape,” Texas A&M spokeswoman Amy Smith said in a statement.
Gabe Walters, a PETA attorney, said they will continue watching Texas A&M and that other public universities engaging users on social media “should do so within the bounds of the Constitution.”
Courts around the country have grappled with First Amendment freedoms on social media, none more high profile than President Donald Trump blocking his critics on Twitter. A court ruled last year that Trump violated the Constitution whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint. Trump has asked the court to reconsider.